EVANSTON, Ill. — It’s been a surreal summer for so many reasons for the program along with its interim head coach, who couldn’t have envisioned himself in this position even two months ago.
Perhaps that’s why there was a lot of excitement in David Braun’s voice when he stepped up to the microphone on Monday at the Walter Athletic Center in Evanston.
“Well, we’re here,” said the current leader of Northwestern football. “Game week.”
Indeed that is the case as Braun will serve as head coach for the first time during a contest at any level when Northwestern kicks off their season with Rutgers on Sunday at 11 a.m. It’s the latest in a whirlwind two months for the Wildcats football program that has also rocked the school’s athletic department.
From the conclusion of an investigation into hazing, further allegations being revealed, the firing of longtime head coach Pat Fitzgerald, and a flurry of lawsuits after made football the farthest thing from many people’s minds.
Yet Braun has faith that his Northwestern team was able to deal with the distractions during training camp and is now ready for the first of 12 games the team is scheduled to play from now through November.
“I just get a sense from our team, from our staff, they’re just ready. They’re just ready,” said Braun. “They’ve galvanized, they’ve come together. Leadership has stepped up. They’re ready to go compete.
“You can feel that in the building, there’s no doubt about that.”
They’ll hit the field looking to improve on a 1-11 record in the final year of the Fitzgerald era – their first campaign with just a single victory since 1989. Four starters return on each side of the ball with a new quarterback ready to take over, with the choice likely to be either transfer Ben Bryant (Cincinnati) or Brendan Sullivan.
Receiver and Frankfort native AJ Henning (Michigan) and Cam Johnson (Arizona State) join the offense with returning running back Cam Porter. Linebackers Bryce Gallagher, who was the team’s leading tackler in 2022, along with Xander Muller and defensive back Garnett Hollis Jr. are among the top defensive returners.
Despite the turmoil over the last two months, Braun stands behind his assessment that the group is in the right frame of mind to begin the season on Sunday.
“I think it’s a group that’s coming off a 1-11 season, a group that has certainly had to navigate a unique time, and a group that’s hungry – that’s hungry to put on full display what they know they stand for in terms of just the resilience, continuity, togetherness that they’ve displayed the last few weeks,” said Braun.
He’ll find out for sure on Sunday when the interim head coach begins a job he couldn’t have seen having at the beginning of the summer.